March 22, 2017 was a disheartening day for those of us who value the sacredness of life. On that day, a bill for the restoration of the death penalty was passed on its third and final reading by the House of Representatives with a landslide victory of 217 in favor, 54 against, and 1 abstention.
There is no irrefutable evidence that capital punishment effectively deters drug abuse and criminality. Moreover, there is a growing global consensus that the death penalty is an exercise incompatible with human dignity and contemporary social ethics. It is in this context that we as a nation decided to abolish capital punishment in 2006. We have since solidified this commitment by signing international covenants that commit us never to bring back this inhumane practice.
But with the recent developments in the House of Representatives, we have taken a step back from our vision of a just and humane society, a step back from believing that the problems of criminality and justice in the country can be solved without spilling blood.
We, your fellow alumni and colleagues, your constituents, and your fellow Filipinos, appeal to you to vote against the restoration of the death penalty in our country.
These are the six main arguments that show that there is no reason for us to bring back this inhumane form of punishment:
1. The Death Penalty is the ultimate violation of the human right to live. We believe that all human life is sacred. No one, not even the state, should be given the power to take away the life of a human person, no matter how grave the offense is. The state is a key duty-bearer in ensuring that the basic rights of the citizens are protected and fulfilled. In allowing the death penalty as a form of punishment, the state would deny the most essential right of its citizen--the right to live.
2. The Death Penalty has not been proven conclusively to deter crime. A more crucial variable that deters criminality is the certainty of punishment for offenders . This suggests that rather than increase the severity of punishment, we should consider investigative, judicial, and correctional reforms to increase the likelihood of punishment being dispensed.
3. The Death Penalty will not solve the drug problem. The death penalty has not been shown convincingly to deter drug abuse and drug trafficking . The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, and eight former heads of state, notes in its 2016 report that punitive measures, including capital punishment, have failed to reduce drug use and drug-related criminality. New approaches focus on rehabilitation and on going after syndicates and large-scale drug trafficking rather than on punishing low-level drug traders. These approaches, which may include decriminalization of drug use, have produced many positive outcomes, including lowered drug use, in more than 30 countries, among them Australia, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic .
4. The Death Penalty will not dispense justice. Research shows that the execution of convicted perpetrators has not brought healing or closure to families and friends of their victims . Not only does the death penalty give a distorted idea of justice to victims and their families, it also results in irreversible injustice to those wrongly convicted. The Supreme Court said in People v. Mateo that 7 out of 10 death penalty convictions issued by the lower courts from 1993 to 2004 were wrongly decided on various counts . We have no room for making such mistakes when it comes to human life.
5. The Death Penalty is anti-poor. A survey conducted by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) in 2004 showed that death row inmates are “largely uneducated, largely underemployed, and generally living in poverty.” Many of those sentenced to death belong disproportionately to the lower classes . This is not because the poor have a greater propensity to commit capital crimes, but because they do not have the resources that the rich have to engage legal assistance that will enable them to evade capital punishment.
6. The Death Penalty violates international commitments. The Philippines is a signatory to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR) which aims to abolish the death penalty. Turning our back on such international commitments can have negative repercussions on our foreign relations and international trade, which will adversely affect our economy and our ability to protect our citizens here and abroad. With such high poverty and unemployment rates in the country, we cannot afford to lose jobs and trade for the sake of an inhumane policy that has not been proven to solve the problems it claims to address.
The kind of justice promoted by the death penalty, an eye-for-an-eye vindictiveness, is not the kind of justice we should seek and promote in our country. We should choose policies that promote restorative justice—a framework that holds offenders accountable and provides genuine healing for victims, their families, and the community.
For the senators who have taken a clear stand against the death penalty, we offer our heartfelt thanks. We thank you for your courage to defend the sanctity of human life. We thank you for your strong ethical conviction that there are better ways to solve the problems that capital punishment claims to address. We stand with you in this struggle.
For those leaning in favor of the death penalty, we appeal to you to reconsider your stand. We share your concern for the safety of your constituents and your consideration of possible policies that you believe can deter criminality. But we reiterate our argument, and the sentiments of other like-minded groups, that restoring the death penalty is not a solution to the problems of criminality and drug use in our society, and may be detrimental to our country’s ethical culture.
For those who are undecided on the issue, we appeal to you to vote against the death penalty.We acknowledge your desire to protect the interests of the Filipino people. But we, representatives and alumni of your almae matres, believe and are reminded by our education that in crafting policies for our country, we ought to be guided by ethical principles and grounded by evidence.
In the coming days, as the committee hearings for the death penalty proceed, we encourage you to stand firm against the culture of death that deems certain people “not human”. To bring back capital punishment is to lose our collective humanity as a people. We are called to promote a culture of life and respect for human dignity.
Our dear Senators, work with us to creatively imagine and implement a justice system that is rehabilitative and restorative. Let us rise above violence and vindictiveness. As a country, we can do better.
Signatories can be found bit.ly/LettertoSenatorsNOtoDeathPenaltySGD Sources: Nagin, Daniel. 2013. Deterrence in the Twenty-First Century. In Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 42(1):199-263. Rosmarin, Ari and Niamh Eastwood. 2012. A Quiet Revolution: Drug Decriminalisation Policies in Practice Across the Globe. Release Global Drug Policy Program. https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/release-quiet-revolution-drug-decrimina lisation-policies-20120709.pdf, accessed 7 May 2017. Global Commission on Drug Policy. 2016. Advancing Drug Policy Reform: A New Approach to Decriminalization. http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/GCDP-Report-2016-ENGLISH.pdf, accessed 11 May 2017. Vollum, Scott and Dennis Longmire. 2007. Covictims of Capital Murder: Statements of Victims’ Family Members and Friends Made at the Time of the Execution. In Violence and Victims 22(5): 601-609. Supreme Court of the Philippines. 2004. The People of the Philippines, Appellee, versus Efren Mateo y Garcia, Appellant. G.R. NO. 147678. Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). 2004. Socio-economic Profile of Capital Offenders in the Philippines. http://pcij.org/blog/wp- docs/flag-survey-death-row.pdf , accessed 7 May 2017.